Friday, January 18, 2008

A message of hope

Since it is Friday afternoon, I thought I'd take a little break from politics and mention a book I've just finished reading - The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D.

This is one of those pivotal books that changes how you view the world and how you interact with it. Dr. Doidge takes us on a journey exploring how the brain is plastic; i.e. how it can change according to various influences and demands. Some of the stories are amazing:

...We see a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, a woman labeled retarded who cured her deficits with brain exercises and now cures those of others, blind people learning to see, learning disorders cured, IQs raised, aging brains rejuvenated, painful phantom limbs erased, stroke patients recovering their faculties, children with cerebral palsy learning to move more gracefully, entrenched depression and anxiety disappearing, and lifelong character traits altered."

I see this book as a message of hope on so many levels. Neurons can grow and make new connections to improve physical and mental health.

Neoplasticity does have its dark side, however:

...But the brain's flexibility may also make it more susceptible to outside influences than previously thought. In his book, Doidge writes about the prevalence of pornography on the Internet, and its potentially addictive effects...

In the chapter entitle, The Culturally Modified Brain, Doige says:

"...Video games, like Internet porn, meet all the conditions for plastic brain map changes. A team at the Hammersmith Hospital in London designed a typical video game in which a tank commander shoots the enemy and dodges enemy fire. The experiment showed that dopamine - the reward neurotransmitter, also triggered by addictive drugs - is released in the brain during these games. People who are addicted to computer games show all the signs of other addictions: cravings when they stop, neglect of other activities, euphoria when on the computer, and a tendency to deny or minimize their actual involvement..."
Mmmm.... I wonder if that includes blogging?

But circuits can be rewired with "hard cerebral work" and medications on occasion.

If fact, Doidge refers continually to two key laws of plasticity:

1) Neurons that fire together, wire together.

2) Neurons that fire apart, wire apart.

So much of our human experience extends from these two simple concepts.

The ultimate lesson perhaps, is that neuroplasticity may one of the missing links between the nature-nurture debate, or as Doidge refers to it the constrained vs. unconstrained view of human nature.

Please pick this book up from your local bookstore or library. I'd love to discuss it with you.


Matt said...

Will do - I'm half way through "John A." and after that I plan to read the other book you recommended me, "PDI" if you recall.

You're really helping to top up my reading list :)

Joanne (True Blue) said...

You're really helping to top up my reading list :)

lol! I trust you've already read Kinsella's books on political tactics?

Joanne (True Blue) said...

To Red Tory - for some reason, your comment did not get through for me to even have had the option of deciding what to do with it.

But never fear. I wouldn't have allowed it anyway.

Matt said...

Nope, Kinsella's book was one of two I asked for that Santa didn't deliver. But rest assured after the October debacle I'll be picking it up sooner rather than later.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Matt, get it from the library so he doesn't get any royalties.

Check out Saturday's column on his blog about Damian. I can't believe it. That guy needs some anger management assistance.